The faith community in Oak Ridge, an often overlooked influence and support structure, is comprised of about 50 churches and another dozen nonprofit organizations through which people come together on a regular basis for spiritual encouragement, acts of service, and relationship development. People spend both their time and their finances to build strength in their personal lives, within their families, and for the Oak Ridge community at large. This translates into greater overall health for the entire community.
Despite the economic slump, churches and helping organizations have continued to serve the community, and organizational growth has taken place over the last several years. New helping organizations have developed. Churches have constructed new facilities, remodeled existing facilities, and relocated in ways that caused vacated church buildings to become occupied again.
Not to imply there aren’t other helping organizations as well, but the faith community as a thriving organism provides many arms of community outreach. There are alcohol and drug rehab programs, support groups, and church-run child care programs. More than one ministry provides medical support through parish nurses, a free medical clinic, and a center with free pregnancy and sexual health services.
The faith community works together to build homes, provide temporary housing, help with utilities, distribute food and clothing, beautify our community, help citizens relocate, provide transportation, assist the elderly, and care for our children and teenagers. Chaplains serve the community through the Oak Ridge police and fire departments, Methodist Medical Center, and in a few business corporations. The community uses faith community facilities for meetings, classes, weddings, performances, and other events. Churches strengthen the character of the community’s people through instruction on spiritual and moral values in weekly church services all around town.
The House of Worship is one example of a church striving to have impact in the Oak Ridge area. Two years ago, the church relocated from Hardin Valley to Oak Ridge taking occupancy of the vacated Covenant Presbyterian Church building on Manhattan Avenue. Senior Pastor Anthony Collins says: “When we moved from Hardin Valley to Oak Ridge, we immediately began looking for opportunities to reach out to the community. As a result, I serve on the advisory board for two area organizations, and we support other nonprofit ministries in various ways. We provide monthly community meals and take prayer walks around the city. We plan to start an after-school child care program in the Woodland School district in August.”
The church is unique to the city in that it is authentically multicultural with an attendance of about 50 percent black and 50 percent white. “Our church is an intentionally multiracial and intercultural church which seeks to be a place where all people fit in,” Collins elaborated. “One of the extraordinary stories of our moving to Oak Ridge happened when a young family with a Down Syndrome child visited the church and saw a Down Syndrome adult taking up the offering that morning. That family joined the church and the young mother began a community support group for parents of special needs children called ‘Specially-Wrapped Gifts.’”
Della Smith, cofounder with Pamela Asher, began another faith-based support group in Oak Ridge about two years ago called Starting Point. Starting Point is focused on families who have loved ones battling drug and/or alcohol addiction. She compares addiction to “a monster which attempts to destroy the whole family.” The purpose of their outreach is to help families grow in their knowledge of what addiction is, learn how to set reasonable boundaries for themselves, and how to set up a contract if their addicted loved one is living under their roof. One member of the group stated, “The support that we have gained through this special group of friends is overwhelming. “ Another faith-based program in Oak Ridge, Reformers Unanimous, is a recovery program for the addict.
Some of the observable evidence of growth in the faith community seen in the last few years has been:
- First Christian Church built a new facility on the west end of Oak Ridge Turnpike
- Oak Ridge Baptist Church built a new facility near the Bethel Valley gate
- Covenant Presbyterian Church built a new facility in Commerce Park
- House of Worship relocated from Hardin Valley into Oak Ridge, purchasing an old church facility on Manhattan Avenue
- Ridgepoint Church moved from their temporary location in Tinseltown Theater after renovating an older church facility on the east side of Solway bridge
- First Cumberland Presbyterian Church completed a nice renovation on Lafayette Drive
- Ridge Church moved from their temporary location at DoubleTree Hotel to an empty church facility on LaSalle Road
- The Free Medical Clinic and Grace Covenant Church are sharing the vacated Trinity United Methodist Church facility on Robertsville Road
- Choices Resource Center purchased an empty building in Grove Center
- A new faith based A&D housing unit has opened in Oak Ridge (but the location is confidential)
The list could go on.
Some critics say that the faith community is not profiting the community financially. This is simply not true. The faith community provides support and assistance to residents free of charge that could otherwise fall as a burden to the local government. It is affecting the community in monumental ways through unselfish, volunteer participation by people who simply care about the kind of lives they live and the good they can do for others. Can you imagine an Oak Ridge without it?
Myra Mansfield is a local law enforcement chaplain who also serves with several nonprofit organizations and as an officer with the Oak Ridge Ministerial Association.